A review of Historical Perspectives of Climate Change by James Fleming
It is the Greens’ wont to abandon all advance of modern civilisation and return us to the Middle Ages!
The Greens want us to abandon civilisation, so it is often proclaimed. In fact, reducing fossil fuel usage and the promotion of renewable energy sources will have no such effect. But nor will they prevent the release into the carbon cycle of all that long-buried carbon. And so they will not stop the marvellous and manifold slow-burn that on the one hand keeps modern civilisation purring along, while on the other hand (so they say) is slowly destroying it.
The reasons that the release of all this buried carbon will not be stopped with the implementation of climate change policy are mostly technological: no renewable process is even close to substituting for base-load coal-powered plants; there is no renewable substitute for the high energy mass transportation arcing across the globe day and night burning avgas; neither for base-load nor transportation are we even close to a carbon-capture burning process; nor is anyone daring to tell the Saudi’s to plug their oil wells and get back on their camels.
Thus, all and any action on climate change that has been placed upon the table for serious consideration will only ever slow down the release of the buried carbon, and so only slow the warming by a few decades or so. Otherwise we can say (if we permit a little poetic licence) that indeed we should say good-bye to modern civilisation …and back to the Middle Ages we go…
The easily discernible mismatch of the policy rationale with the outcomes of the proposed policies has prompted many attempts to explain the (coalescence of) motivations otherwise. Indeed, some Greens do have a hippy-ideal of a semi-subsistent agrarian future, however impractical such a transformation of our cities – our civil-ization – might be. A more moderate explanation is that renewables are a good thing for other reasons (environmentally, politically), and that this AGW scare (consciously or unconsciously) serves but to facilitate our inevitable transition to them. More sinister is that vested interests (in more nuclear power, more taxes, more power to the environment industry etc) are harnessing and exciting genuine concern in a Baptists and Bootleggers kind of way.
However we may come to understand what is going on in this controversy, we can always return to the fact that the AGW scare is grounded in an argument giving that, by way of the environment, civilisation is impacting profoundly upon itself (even upon its civilised appreciation of the beauty of nature). This is familiar to us in the pollution campaigns of the 1960s and 70s, but it does pay to go back much further than this and compare the current movement with earlier episodes of western environmentalism during previous centuries.
One of the rewarding features of Fleming’s Historical Perspectives on Climate Change comes where Fleming draws our attention to the all-but-forgotten environmental debates of these past centuries, where climate also came into play with claims of civilisation’s affect upon civilisation. Fleming gives particular attention to the 18th century debate of, and mostly in, the America colonies, where many scientists and learned gentlemen were persuaded to the idea of anthropogenic climate change. The difference with today is that the effect was seen as not global but local, and (at least in the debate Fleming cites) moderating and beneficial. Civilisation had a civilising effect on climate.
Yes, we have been through this all before! Differently we travel but across the same terrain. And herein is the redemption the historical perspective affords: whenever you get sucked up into the novelty of the present, the history comes up sobering, grounding. It is to Fleming’s credit that he began to dig under the surface so early, and went to press with this major study in 1998, even if this was too late for AGW’s political triumph at Kyoto. Continue reading